Care in the classroom: teacher and student perspectives in high and low classes

Tracking, or its most modern form, ability grouping (Lucas & Berends, 2002), can cause students to experience different levels of care and to have different opportunities to learn (Moller & Stearns, 2012; Oakes, 2005). Research (Diamond, Randolf, & Spillane, 2004) suggests that teachers’ sense of care varies widely between the various academic classes and tracks found today in America’s public schooling. This differing sense of responsibility and differential experience of care can cause the academic rigor, instructional quality, and the classroom climate to change dramatically per academic class (Diamond et al., 2004; Donaldson, LeChasseur, & Mayer, 2016; Moller & Stearns, 2012; Oaks, 2005). Thus, students in low and high tracked classes have widely different experiences. The purpose of this study was to understand if and how tracking leads to differences in student experiences related to care and preparation in school within the academic tracks at the various levels. Also, we sought to understand how teachers understand their sense of care for their students. Results indicate that students do experiences care differently but these differences are intricate and multilayered. Furthermore, these differences are based on several factors such as level in school, track placement, gender of the teacher, years of teaching experience for the teacher. More importantly, differences in care are heavily due to teachers’ varied understanding of what care is and how it should be presented to students in and, at times, outside the classroom. Results are further explained with quantitative and qualitative findings pieced together and tied to related literature. Research implications, limitations, and conclusions are also discussed.